Before I moved, I played two games back-to-back, because they turned out to be pretty short. In playing them, I experienced a really severe mood whiplash that’s kinda taken me a while to finally write about.
The first game I played was The Haunted Island, the first episode of Frog Detective, primarily made by Grace Bruxner, Thomas Bowker and Dan Golding. If the game’s name is familiar to you, guess what, it’s funded by the SUPERHOT team.
You are the Frog Detective, a smiling investigator wearing a dad sweater that’s goofy and friendly, yet focused on his work. He gets a call telling him to investigate this guy’s island, which is apparently being haunted by ghosts and the professional (?) scientists there can’t figure the problem out, so Frog Detective goes out to solve the case.
The island is stuck in the middle of a storm and a noir-esque soundtrack plays dramatically. The setting gives off the impression of a hard-broiled investigation, or something else dark. And then you get to the island and everyone’s acting like this:
The serious noir music and stormy atmosphere are contrasted by the fact that all the characters are complete weirdos. Even the Frog Detective, a comparative straight man, is quick to descend to their level, such as just casually lounging with the guy taking his day off while interrogating him – all as a hard-broiled soundtrack plays.
You go through The Haunted Island doing the simple adventure game thing of gathering items and trading them to progress. And like a good adventure game, the dialogue is goofy and charming. It never gets serious and, heck, the mystery doesn’t even really feel like a “mystery.” However, I think the contrast between the game’s silliness and bright aesthetics against the serious noir framing helps give the game personality. I hope that the next game has straight up horror game music playing while the Frog Detective casually shoots the shit with some ghosts, because that’d rule.
It’s short. It’s goofy. It’s Frog Detective.
And then we move into Paratopic, which is the extreme opposite of Frog Detective.
A man is delivering contraband VHS tapes across a border. An assassin sets out to kill his handler. A young woman goes birdwatching only to come across… something else. Paratopic – by @oysterFAKE, @ForgetAmnesia and @Lazarus_Audio – is a surreal horror story that blends these plotlines together into an odd whole.
Visually, Paratopic is a good example of why this new era of PS1-styled indie horror games rule. The technical restrictions of that style (or self-imposed restrictions of its imitators) creates the need to creatively work around that stuff – or even incorporate it. The grainy textures gives the world this grimy aesthetic, creating this great sense of decay. The blocky looks of people with their face textures just stretched on gives off this uncanny feeling that makes even the mundane scenes feel off.
Speaking of the mundane, Paratopic brings out the horror in the mundane. Half, if not most of the game, portray seemingly normal things that just feels off. Besides the art style, the unease from these scenes come from the fact that the scenes in Paratopic switch around with little warning, so you don’t know when that nice little walk you’re on suddenly transitions into straight horror.
The strongest it ever is is during the car scenes, the transition scenes where you’re, well, driving a car. The world outside is gross and old, an unnatural darkness settling in as you drive to parts unknown. Your only companion is the radio, and as all vocal audio is Sims-esque, the radio shows playing feels uniquely alien. As the radio blabbers on, you see large power lines – some of them are deformed, but they seem normal enough. At least until you listen to the weird convenience store clerk ramble about the local sights, in which case, they become really suspicious.
Playing these two games back to back was an Experience. Besides the drastically different tones, I saw that there was a clear difference in intent. The Frog Detective presents itself as a mystery but the actual story of what’s going on is straightforward – just weird. Paratopic on the other hand is an ambiguous story that constantly jumps around, with a mystery that’s ultimately left to interpretation.
To me, this experience captures my intent for this site. Playing games for this site means finding new experiences to share with people. It means finding a variety of things to share without pigeonholing myself into just one genre. Well, I disproportionately cover a lot of RPG Maker games, but look, RPG Maker needs respect. I think seeking out these different games with different intentions and genres and gameplay is important because it highlights how broad and varied the indie game community can be.
If you want a short goofy faux-mystery, you can find that game. If you want a surreal PS1 horror game, you can find that game. If you want a certain experience, chances are, someone’s made it. And with the growing ease of making games, you can seek out to create that experience yourself.